Farewell Village School

For the last 106 years the Sister Bay Village School sat atop the bluff overlooking the village, the businesses and villagers who live their lives below. On March 17, our community suffered a huge loss as the Village School was torn down, a rare 150-year-old maple tree was cut, and the property was sold for development. The story of the teardown spread quickly, much like the fire of 1912 that destroyed the center of Sister Bay.

Old school chums, past teachers, students and old timers all conveyed their memories of our Village School. Five generations of local families attended there. Marsha Burress Schmucker, who grew up next door to the school, recalls her mother Helen bringing hot lunch from her home kitchen. Just like the scene in the movie A Christmas Story, Marsha was the kid who upperclassmen double-dog-dared her to stick her tongue on a cold metal rail. First grade teacher Mrs. Phyllis Larson saved her with a teapot of boiling water.

Many of us remember making forts in the woods, cutting trails along the bluff and forming secret clubs during recess, and once we mistakenly raised the flag upside down, which prompted several telephone calls to the school inquiring of our distress. Often our recess ball rolled downtown into the door of Erickson Electric or Jungwirth’s Hardware store. All of us enjoyed its panoramic view of the bay and the village below.

Andre and Leona Roeser

In July 1909, my great-great-grandfather Andre Roeser (one of the founders of the village) sold the property to School District #7 for $100. Before Roeser owned the property, it was held by the lumbermen Dimond Brothers, and prior to that it was utter wilderness. The village needed a home for a school. What better place than atop the bluff overlooking our Sister Bay.

There was a valiant effort to try to save the school property. Several years ago villagers voted to save the property and transform it into a park. An ad hoc committee was formed and some great ideas were voiced – a history trail, a small lookout tower, a family picnic area. There were others.

The Historical Society wanted to save the school building. They made several appeals for funds to save the school but the money could not be raised. Sadly, the village did not have the funding available to make improvements to the school park either. As the village needed funds and tax revenue, the village board voted to sell the property and sacrifice its priceless view and rich history.

The writer, Patrice Champeau, standing on the bluff where the school once stood.

The school sat abandoned and a bit forgotten until we lost it just a few days ago. Many of us scrambled to take one last photo, one last glance at our past. All that can be saved now are the memories that we made there.

Recently, a visitor told me what he loved about the county is its history. Yes, that’s what many of us have been fighting for. Maybe it’s appropriate that we flew the distress flag so many years ago. A school in distress is now lost forever. Thanks to all who gave it their best to save it and thank you Andre Roeser for having the vision to provide a special place for the little school on the hill.